Our team wanted to catch up with Mat Podskarbi, president of FourPointZero, before his panel during our WorkforceNEXT Energy Summit on April 18. There has been much talk surrounding RPA technology’s uses, challenges and what it can do to improve the connected workforce. We were excited to hear more about its applications and how it can help enhance, not replace, the human workforce.
Q: Can you give us your best explanation on what is Intelligent Automation/RPA as a technology?
A: Sure, RPA is a generic tool using screen scraping and other technologies to create specialized agents which can automate clerical tasks. RPA is currently one of the most popular Artificial Intelligence application areas, as it allows companies with legacy systems to automate their workflows.
RPA software emulates user actions in almost all systems and environments – including operating systems, specialized software or even MS-DOS applications.
RPA robots utilize the user interface to capture data and applications just like humans do. They interpret, trigger responses and communicate with other systems in order to perform on a vast variety of repetitive tasks. Only substantially better: an RPA software operates in 24/7/365 manner, makes zero mistakes and costs a lot less than an employee.
RPA is also non-intrusive in nature and leverages the existing infrastructure without causing disruption to underlying systems, which would be difficult and costly to replace. With RPA, cost efficiency and compliance are no longer an operating cost but a byproduct of the automation.
RPA is a great solution to go 100% digital in a relatively quick manner, and being cost-effective, significantly boosts productivity, scales workers to meet demand and continuously learns through experience. Finally, it helps increase customer and job satisfaction simultaneously.
Q: How would you describe the current methods that energy/engineering companies are adopting RPA into their enterprise?
A: Actually, RPA is still in early stages in energy/engineering companies; however, in other highly regulated environments like banking, retail, and insurance, it’s growing exponentially.
Usually, companies consider two ways of implementing RPA:
Building RPA capabilities in-house. This requires hiring RPA Talent (which is still relatively rare), creating a program that needs experimenting and finally develop and sustain a COE. To be able to do that, companies need to create a scale and be able to not only implement robots but also maintain them. Usually, only really large companies are successful when choosing that path.
Outsource RPA implementation. This requires implementing the selection process, making a business case for holistic RPA implementation, developing a roadmap and implementing using an external provider. At the end licenses, implementation costs and maintenance still have to be managed by the end user.
We introduced the third way of RPA usage in energy/engineering environment – we call it Robot as a service. We develop a robot on our side, apply it into the process, perform a certain work scope and maintain the robot. The client is receiving the required outcomes as a result of that.
This business model is disruptive to what we see on the RPA market nowadays. It requires no upfront investment, and try-before-you-buy is a part of the implementation process. Finally, the client is paying only for the result received and no other costs.
This model is possible only because we have extensive experience in building, using and maintaining RPA, including required infrastructure and high-security standards. Having 100 professionals on board, we are able to deliver the implementation process in only 4 weeks. Additionally, leveraging experience from other industries like banking, insurance or production, we are able to always be a few steps ahead of other solutions. Thanks to that, our clients receive best-in-class and modern application, not bothering with any upgrades or technology changes.
Q. Are there any specific Use Cases, POCs or Field Trials you would like to share with us?
A. We have successfully developed robots in an engineering environment, where our robots help engineers complete the final assembly of the project. Robots extract parts of the equipment from specialist systems, put together as whole equipment documentation and prepare it as a complete project. Thanks to that, engineers save a substantial amount of their time and are able to concentrate on further improvements to the products or designing a new one. RPA solutions significantly increased engineers’ capacity towards higher value-added activities.
We also have experience using robots to help buyers to make fast and precise decisions. Our robots help in updating market prices for thousands of parts which are not easily tracked in the marketplace. Robots search the internet for the price of the parts, update the buying system, and pull reports on a daily basis. Before that, such a regular update was not possible. Our robots directly influence quicker, better and more effective buying decisions.
An interesting example is the implementation of robots in the finance area. It means handling invoices, booking them in the system and finally preparing payment proposals. Our robots help handle that process in a 24/7/365 error-free mode. This not only frees up human capacity and increases productivity, but thanks to the error-free work, the client avoids double payment errors (which can happen on a regular basis). Implementing RPA as a service also helped increase working capital and improve cash flow.
Last but not least, it supports the sales process. Our robots help sales representatives prepare sets of supporting documents for every particular client and prospect, putting and pulling data between operating systems and CRM. It helps shorten the human touch in sales admin process, freeing up time for generating leads, handling processes and closing the deals in a faster and more effective manner.
Q. What are some of the key benefits that an energy company might gain from implementing RPA?
A. Implementing RPA in a proper and professional manner can help energy companies become more effective, increase back-office efficiency and assist with engineering processes.
RPA can boost human potential in key value-added activities of the organization. Employees finally have the opportunity to concentrate on value-generating activities when giving up repetitive tasks.
We see that productivity increases between 20-60% depending on the process. At the same time, the cost of maintaining automated processes drop about 50% of what a full-time employee costs when using RPA as a service model.
We can’t forget about the error-free work that robots are able to do. This significantly reduces the added costs from mistakes, compliance and risk management processes. On top of that, robots’ work is fully trackable step-by-step.
Finally, we see robots applied in critical areas but, due to systems not being integrated, the applications are less frequently performed. Implementing robots to help increase the accuracy and efficiency of the decision process significantly decreases the risk of wrong decisions.
Q. What challenges have companies found in attempting to add Intelligent Automation to their workflows?
A. A few challenges are:
Strategic – Technology develops very fast. As an example, 12 months ago (at the beginning of 2018) RPA was only applicable in a very repetitive environment. Nowadays, it’s becoming one of the top priorities for CEOs globally. Now the question is not if a company should invest in RPA technology, but how. RPA as a service helps to mitigate that challenge.
Operational – How to build internal capabilities both to develop and maintain robots with such relatively young technology is an operational challenge. It is not only a challenge to keep up-to-date with technology changes, but it is also a challenge to attract, develop and maintain RPA talent specialists. Again, RPA as a service helps a lot.
Functional – It is becoming a challenge to maintain and control a bigger number of robots working together. Scale deployment needs to manage the challenge of controlling not just a few robots, but hundreds or even thousands of robots. Without proper experience and controlled environment, it is challenging, and it might create a huge operational challenge for day-to-day business operations. Again, Robot as a service eliminates this problem. The client is receiving a result of the robot’s work, and not the robot itself.
Organizational Culture – Nowadays organizational culture requires a change to handle digitalization. It is the first time in history that leaders need to delegate and execute the work of robots. Again, robot as a service solutions help organizations make this process more planned and organized, saving time, energy and resources during change management.
You can learn more from Mat Podskarbi during the panel discussion, AI/ML and the Connected Digital Workforce Roundup – BOTS, Intelligent Automation & Digital Knowledge Collaboration at the WorkforceNEXT Energy Summit on April 18.